An Ordinary Life Enslaved by a Card: Coercively Linking Aadhaar with Hunger Is No Solution
16 Pages Posted: 30 Oct 2017
Date Written: October 28, 2017
In August 2017, in KS Puttuswamy v. Union of India, commonly known as Privacy judgment, the nine judges bench of the Supreme Court unanimously in its landmark verdict established the fundamental right to privacy and transformed the civil rights jurisprudence. The decision strengthened the claims of citizens to the individual right to privacy, personal autonomy and the bodily integrity. Even earlier, the right to life with dignity as guaranteed under the Article 21 of the Constitution has been interpreted in its wide scope by the Courts in innumerable matters. In PUCL v. Union of India, popularly known as the Right to Food Case, the Supreme Court in a series of orders defined and shaped the of citizens’ rights against hunger, starvation deaths and malnutrition. Despite of these affirmative judicial interventions, on 28 September, 2017, in the Simgeda district of Jharkhand, a 11-year-old girl Santoshi died after starving for eight days. The ration card of her family was not linked to the Aadhaar and therefore the family could not receive subsidized food grains for months from the local ration shop. This case is not an aberration. In Jharkhand itself, 11 lakhs ration cards have been cancelled because the card holders have not submitted their Aadhaar numbers. Many other such cases have been reported from other areas too which confirmed that poor are excluded in the process of digitization of the citizen’s identity. A fact-finding report by PUCL confirmed that in Gokarana Town of Karnataka three Dalit brothers died due to starvation because the ration was denied to the family as they could not submit their Aadhaar card. The biometric mechanism has deprived and excluded most poor and vulnerable out of poor population of their grain entitlement forcing many to die due to chronic hunger and starvation. In fact, India has been ranked at 100th position out of 119 countries in the Global Hunger Index in the year 2017 in a report released by the IFPRI. In 2014, the country was ranked at 55th position by the same Index. Many sets of petitions and PILs have been filed before the Supreme Court urging it to intervene and stop mandatory imposition of Aadhaar. This essay looks into this conflict between the right to food of the common citizens and coercion by the state to link it with the Aadhaar card. Can hunger be linked forcefully with a citizen’s identity leading to extreme consequence of death due to starvation? Can an ordinary life be captivated in a piece of paper? Can democracy be allowed to wither and die every day when poor are coerced and are forced to die because they could not link their identity with biometrics? Can the state blame and punish the poor and vulnerable for not following the bureaucratic orders by depriving them of their legal entitlements? The essay suggests that contrary to what is portrayed by the state or even the international organizations such as World Bank, the digitization of the identity is in no way benefiting the citizens or eliminating corruption. Rather this coercive seeding of Aadhaar with the ration card and other welfare schemes is an anti-people measure which is excluding the poor and vulnerable and deny them of their basic legal rights. Instead of eliminating hunger or eradicating corruption, such forced undemocratic practices by the anarchical totalitarian state are taking away people’s basic right to life with dignity. The imposition of such extreme unconstitutional measure is empowering the authoritative state against the vulnerability of powerless citizens.
Keywords: right to food, India, Aadhaar, starvation, death, hunger, democracy
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